The time has come for the European Challenge Cup quarter-final, the battle of the capital cities, a face-off between the in-form Guinness Pro14 sides. Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues, Saturday evening at Murrayfield.
It may well be the second tier European competition between sides either battling to make it into, or just about qualifying for the Pro14 play-offs, but it is undoubtedly one of the ties of the weekend.
We all know about Cardiff Blues seven match unbeaten run that we are currently on, but at the same time Edinburgh have been quietly going about a five-match winning streak of their own, and it will be no mean feat for Danny Wilson’s men to win in Scotland on Saturday.
Wins over Leinster, Ulster, Dragons, Munster and Connacht have seen them climb into the play-off spots of Conference B, but Cardiff Blues haven’t lost in the Scottish capital since November 2014, and fingers crossed they won’t this weekend.
Of course, this is a different Edinburgh side to that of recent years though, with former Leicester and Toulon coach Richard Cockerill in charge. The very same man who was in charge of the Tigers when we lost to them in a penalty shootout in the last semi-final we made it to way back in 2009.
Although they haven’t scored a huge amount of points in the Pro14, their defence is amongst the best in the league, and their pack close to the most physical, which will no doubt cause Cardiff Blues problems.
With the likes of Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist and Blair Kinghorn back from Scotland duty in the Six Nations, as well as the injured WP Nel available at prop, the Scottish side are able to name close to their full strength starting XV.
Captain Fraser Mackenzie will make his 100th appearance, while the likes of Magnus Bradbury, John Hardie, Mark Bennett and Dougie Fife have Scotland caps, while number eight Bill Mata is a Fiji international.
On the bench they are able to name the experience of replacement front row Rory Sutherland, Neil Cochrane and Simon Berghan, while Cornel Du Preez waits to boost the back row, and Duncan Weir can make a difference at fly-half.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Nathan Fowles; Jordan Lay, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Fraser McKenzie (c), Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, John Hardie, Bill Mata
Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Rory Sutherland, Simon Berghan, Lewis Carmichael, Cornell du Preez, Sean Kennedy, Duncan Weir, Phil Burleigh
Danny Wilson is also able to name players now available after the Six Nations, as Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe are drafted back into the starting XV after appearing for Team Wales over the last few weeks.
Elsewhere he opts for Dillon Lewis to make his first start since the last European Challenge Cup game against Lyon in January, while Josh Turnbull, who has made the fourth most tackles in the Pro14 this season, is preferred to Seb Davies in the second row.
On the bench there are recalls for Kirby Myhill and Anton Peikrishvili, as Matthew Rees is injured, and Scott Andrews is dropped.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe, Blaine Scully, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kristian Dacey, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Gill, Anton Peikrishvili, Seb Davies, Macauley Cook, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Matthew Morgan
Cardiff’s history in European rugby’s knockout stage is illustrious, stretching back to the first Heineken Cup Final in 1996, to winning the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010, and on Saturday we prepare to write another chapter in that story.
Although we are on a superb run of form currently, this weekend’s game will be the toughest encounter of our current winning streak, and coming away from Scotland with a home semi-final will be a huge success.
For Cardiff Blues the game will be won or lost up front, and by picking Josh Turnbull in that second row, Danny Wilson seems to be acknowledging that. Josh has the physicality and tackling ability to hurt Edinburgh, although whether he has the scrum power is another question.
Aside from that the back row has the balance to do real damage on the floor, and they will have to be at top performance to hurt Edinburgh, while the backs will do real damage if they can click as we know they can. That is Cardiff Blues best chance of winning on Saturday.
All in all, it will take the Cardiff Blues outing of the year to get the win, but that summarises European knockout rugby in a nutshell. There’s no such thing as scraping through to the next round.
What there is, though, is confidence, and that is a huge plus point for Danny Wilson’s men. If we can use that momentum to our advantage, then we will do well.
If you are making the trip up to Edinburgh this weekend then have a safe journey and a good time, and if you are watching at home then get the vocal cords warmed up. A chance to do something really special is on the table here. Come on Cardiff!
Edinburgh form: WWWWW
Cardiff Blues form: WWWWW
Edinburgh top try scorers: Blair Kinghorn and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (8)
Cardiff Blues top try scorers: Owen Lane and Matthew Morgan (5)
Edinburgh top points scorer: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (110)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Jarrod Evans (139)
Mathieu Raynal (FRA) – Former Perpginan player Raynal has never refereed Cardiff Blues, although his assistant referee Alexandre Ruiz will be familiar as the man who sent George Earle off at Bath last season.